Spread-limit hold 'em is a form of hold 'em that dictates that all bets and raises are done in increments between the spread of two amounts (hence the name). It blends some of the predictability of Fixed-limit hold 'em with some of the pot-controlling power of No-limit hold 'em. As an individual hand progresses, it plays more and more like fixed-limit, but early on has some of the excitement of no-limit.
Spread-limit games are described using two amounts, such as "$2-$6 spread limit". Unlike the amounts used in describing Fixed-limit hold 'em games, the $2-$6 describes the spread of the betting allowed on each of the betting rounds: the betting ranges do not increase on the different rounds. As in no-limit, the incremental amount of any raise can be no smaller than the increment of the previous bet or raise. Sometimes, due to the physical nature of the chips or due to house rules, some other restrictions may be placed on bet amounts in the spread (for example, only betting even amounts if you are using $2 chips).
The big blind amount is always the lowest end of the spread. The small blind is usually half of that amount (rounded up or down as the house dictates). The house may choose to have a cap on the number of raises (as in fixed-limit) or allow unlimited raising (as in no-limit).
While once quite popular, spread-limit hold 'em is beginning to wane in popularity due to the constant televising of no-limit hold 'em. It's still popular in beginners' circles, because it provides some amount of the excitement of no-limit without the risk of "losing your whole stack" in one hand. It's an easy way to take small steps towards playing no-limit without taking the full plunge.
Some casinos use the spread-limit form of hold 'em to get around local rules prohibiting no-limit hold 'em. They do this by making the spreads ridiculously huge (for example, 2-200) so that players can normally bet anything from just a few to virtually all their chips, so it's very similar to no-limit, and plays essentially identical to that game. We sometimes call this No-limit spread-limit hold 'em.
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Four players are playing a $2-$6 spread-limit hand. The big blind has posted $2, the small blind has posted $1. All the hands are dealt and we begin the preflop betting round. The player to the left of the big blind (UTG) decides to raise: they may choose to raise by any amount from $2 to $6, making it anywhere from $4 to $8 for the next player to call. In this case, the player chooses to raise $3, making the current bet $5.
The next player (on the button) may choose to fold, call the $5, or raise. If they choose to raise, they can raise anywhere from $3 to $6 more. They cannot raise by only $2 because the previous raiser raised by $3, so that is now the minimum raise allowed. In this case, the player chooses to call.
The next player is the small blind. They are already in for $1. They may fold, call the additional $4, or raise. If they choose to raise, they have the same raising options as the previous player: they may raise by any amount between $3 and $6. In this case, they choose to raise by $6, making the total bet $11. They push ten additional dollar chips onto their bet and the action moves on.
The next player is the big blind. They are already in for $2. They may fold, call the additional $9, or raise. If they choose to raise, they may only raise by $6: no more, no less. This is because the previous player raised by $6, making that the new minimum raise. But the spread limit of the game only goes to $6, so that is also the maximum raise. Essentially, once one player has raised the pot by the maximum amount of the spread, the betting round works like fixed-limit, since the increment is now fixed at the top of the spread.
Let's say all players end up calling the small blind's raise, meaning all four players are in for $11 each.
After the flop, the betting rounds start anew, beginning with the small blind position. Each round "resets" the spread again, and now the player may choose to check or bet anywhere from $2 to $6 into the pot. Notice that the fact that the betting got to the $6 increment on the previous round does not affect this round. Assume this player checks, and the next player (the big blind) bets $4.
The following player (UTG) may chosoe to fold, call the $4, or raise. If they choose to raise, they may raise any amount between $4 and $6. Again, the minimum amount of any raise is the amount of the previous bet or raise in this round.
Let's say all players end up calling the big blind's $4 bet, making the pot $60 in total (assuming no rake for the moment). The turn card is dealt.
Once again, the betting round starts with the small blind, who may check or bet anywhere from $2 to $6. Notice that the spreads do not get higher as the hand progresses, unlike fixed-limit games.